Boca Raton: Beach-park district takes a breather after paying unexpected bills

Related story: Beach-park director may drop job as its lawyer

By Steve Plunkett

Red Reef Park just had emergency repairs made to its seawall and is in the process of getting two new restrooms east of State Road A1A. Total cost: $710,000.

The Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District, which pays for upkeep and improvements at the city-owned park, approved building the restrooms and paying for the seawall work at its May 7 meeting, despite having not been told ahead of time about the seawall’s $201,000 in repairs and being surprised by the $509,000 needed for the restrooms, $109,000 over budget to add new roofs and a sidewalk.

“I’ve never heard of building a restroom for $250,000. That’s a lot of money. Am I the only one to think that’s a crazy amount to spend for a restroom?” Commissioner Craig Ehrnst said.

The unexpected expenses made district commissioners hesitant to OK other requests involving Red Reef until their financial consultant could see how the projects will fit into the district’s budget.

Across A1A, the park’s Gumbo Limbo Nature Center is about to see work started on its long-awaited boardwalk and observation tower. Estimated cost: $1.2 million.

Consultant EDSA Inc. is waiting for authorization to further develop its master plan for Gumbo Limbo. Price tag: $200,000.

And a project to build new pumps and piping to bring seawater under A1A to the nature center’s aquarium and sea turtle tanks may cost upward of $3 million.

Commissioners’ reluctance to approve those projects, plus their May 9 request that the Boca Raton City Council help pay for reconstructing the golf course at Ocean Breeze, raised alarms on the city side that the district may be running out of money.

“We’re hearing … that they’re wanting us to participate [in rebuilding Ocean Breeze] and we have no plans or anything in the budget or forecast for funding that sort of thing,” City Manager Leif Ahnell told council members at a May 14 planning session.

“We have a number of other projects that are already on the books to be funded by the Beach and Park District that we’re having concerns they may not be stepping up as our partners to pay their fair share, in the millions and millions of dollars,” Ahnell continued.

On the district side, Chairman Robert Rollins was equally concerned that council members offered no commitments to pay for anything golf-related, even though Boca Raton is selling its municipal golf course west of the city limits for $65 million.

“It was like watching a hot potato getting tossed there on the council — nobody wanted to touch that, ‘Well, we’ll get back with you, we haven’t thought about that yet,’ ” Rollins said at the commission’s May 21 meeting.

Rollins said he would ask again for city participation at the next joint meeting, now scheduled for July.

“I don’t think we should foot the bill for everything,” Ehrnst said.

At the May 9 joint meeting, two residents asked the City Council to commit to paying for Ocean Breeze’s transformation.

“I would encourage you to seriously consider not burdening the new golf course with so much debt when there is a substantial amount of proceeds coming from the sale of the existing golf course,” resident Kevin Wrenne said.

Barry Tetrault called the $65 million a “windfall” for the city.

“I haven’t seen or heard anyone on the City Council even acknowledge the fact that they’re going to put money into the golf course. That’s scary, it really is,” Tetrault said. “Are you going to chip in for the financing of this course?”

Mayor Scott Singer said the council has not discussed how to spend the $65 million. 

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